1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Markets, Business and Regulation (2000 - 2009) | Event: Public-Private Partnerships for Sustainable Development


Public-Private Partnerships for Sustainable Development

  • Date: 15 Aug 2006
  • Location: Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
  • Speakers: Søren Petersen, Darryl Reed, Ananya Reed, Peter Utting, Ann Zammit, Uwafiokun Idemudia, Shaheen Rafi Khan, Sofie Michaelsen
  • Project Title: Business and Poverty Reduction

Ferguson -The political economy of Public-Private Partnerships


Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs1) represent a public policy tool which has been increasingly popular in developed countries and, as with many other economic policy instruments originated there, has being adopted by developing countries in response to pressures from multilateral and bilateral agencies (Ahmed & Ali 2004, Jamali 2004). Nowadays, the concept of PPPs has been increasingly used as a rhetoric scheme in order to rename public-private mixed enterprises—a model that is not that new or innovative—formerly recognized as ‘privatization’ or ‘corporatization’ (Wettenhall 2003). Privatizations in the form of concessions in the areas of basic public services are increasingly affecting the poorest segments of society (Barja & Urquiola, 2001). Doubtful experiences of concessions that usually involve transnational corporations (TNCs) have made the concept of PPPs more appropriate in cases where private companies take over public services. In the past few years, PPPs that include civil society and/or communities have been recognized as actually improving service provision for the poor also where international operators provide basic services (Franceys & Weitz, 2003). The current focus of the development community on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and poverty reduction has directed the spotlight towards the poor groups of society; not only as beneficiaries but also as active actors in the development process.

This paper contributes with an analysis of the inclusion and participation of marginalized groups in a PPP in the city of David in the Republic of Panama. Is it possible for marginalized groups of society to participate and become empowered through a PPP project? Are partnerships arrangements where all actors benefit? Does this include socially excluded or marginalized groups? Even though the partnership started with the specific development objective of improving the service of solid waste management (SWM) for the city, the process conducted the poor groups to develop organizational, negotiation and action-taking capabilities. The PPP gave them the opportunity to voice their necessities, struggles and meanings, not only to politicians but also to the other members of civil society. Two types of relationships evolved from the interactions in workshops and meetings: a) identification with other members of the partnership which have similar needs and opinions and b) networking relationships with other members of society, the private sector and state/municipality officials. Even though the political and societal elites do not see scavengers and illegal settlers as equals, the two marginalized groups have realized that their participation in the project was important as members of society. This perception contributed to a better self-image and recognition of their rights as citizens, which triggered their desire to organize as a group and to achieve collective action. However, this process of agency was obstructed by the structures represented in the local political institutions...